Mycotoxins are a costly, complicated problem for livestock and poultry producers. Not only are there hundreds of different mycotoxins, all produced by different fungi and environmental factors, but each category of toxins and each toxin within those categories can impact animals and birds differently. For producers, that means becoming aware of the major toxins and knowing the signs and symptoms of toxin exposure are critical to reduce the risk of mycotoxins eroding animal health and performance.
Of the hundreds of known mycotoxins, the five main profit-robbing mycotoxins of concern to livestock and poultry producers are: aflatoxin, deoxynivalenol, T-2 Toxin, zearalenone and fumonisin. Produced by Aspergillus species, aflatoxins are a group of chemicals considered carcinogenic (cancer-causing) to animals and humans.1 Trichothecenes, like deoxynivalenol (DON) and T-2 Toxin, are produced on many different grains like wheat, oats or corn by various Fusarium species. These toxins are frequently found together and can cause feed refusal and poor weight gain. Fumonisin can inhibit lipid metabolism, leading to immune suppression and nervous system damage. In horses, fumonisin contamination can lead to leukoencephalomalacia.2 Zearalenone acts as an estrogenic molecule which can adversely impact reproduction. Fumonisin and zearalenone are also produced by Fusarium molds.
Reporting of mycotoxins has greatly increased in recent years. In general, acute toxic effects of the major mycotoxins are readily observed, and producers can take remediation quickly. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and feed regulatory officials have published reference advisory doses for each toxin, and exposure below these regulated levels is usually considered safe. General guidance for equines is as follows:2,3
The problem is recent research demonstrates that chronic, long-term exposure to dietary mycotoxins – when fed below regulatory threshold levels – may impact the immune system, intestinal integrity and physiology of animals. Additionally, current guidelines only factor in the effects of single toxin exposure, which is rarely the case since molds produce multiple toxins under the same environmental conditions. Together this means low level toxin exposure and/or mycotoxin co-contamination may have a greater effect in animal production systems than the acute toxic effects associated with consumption of high levels of mycotoxins.
The good news is many university extension services produce documents to help producers learn to prevent or minimize mycotoxin production. Reaching out to these professionals, your veterinarian or your nutritionist is a good place to start when combatting this perennial problem. Implementation of a comprehensive mycotoxin testing program for incoming grains at the feed mill can also help identify mycotoxin risks in ingredients before manufacturing feeds. Furthermore, inclusion of mold inhibitors, to control mold growth, as well as use of flow agents to neutralize toxins in diets can help producers minimize the impacts of mycotoxins on animal health and performance.4,5
For more information about solutions to address the risk of mycotoxins in your operation please visit kemin.com/equine/gut-health/resources.
1Hurburgh, Charles, et al. 2012. Aflatoxin in Corn. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach publication PM1800.
2CVM Annual Report on Mycotoxins in Animal Food Report for Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16). https://www.fda.gov/media/130526/download, accessed June 18, 2020.
3Office of Indiana State Chemist, Feed Section – Mycotoxins in Feed Grains. https://www.oisc.purdue.edu/feed/mycotoxins.html, accessed June 18, 2020.
4Ramos, A.J., J. Fink-Gremmels, and E. Hernández. (1996). Prevention of toxic effects of mycotoxins by means of nonnutritive adsorbent compounds. J. Food Protection, 59(6):631-641.
5Vila-Donat, P., S. Marín, V. Sanchis, and A. J. Ramos. (2018). A review of the mycotoxin adsorbing agents, with an emphasis on their multi-binding capacity, for animal feed decontamination. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 114:246-259.
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